“I wonder what it would be like to live in a world where it was always June”
The countryside is awash with lovely wildflowers, daisies, buttercups, etc. All the orchards are draped in apple blossom and the bees are humming. In a few weeks the petals will start to fall, the noisy spring birdsong at dawn will start to subside and become more subdued as hopefully the midsummer sun shines a little bit more and it becomes a lot warmer. Lookout for the first dragon flies as they flutter over ponds.
What an amazing start to this month with the Jubilee celebrations. I am sure everyone at some point over this weekend will have spent some time outdoors at a street party, family picnic or just getting together with friends. The start of many more gatherings I am sure as Summer officially begins on 21st June.
Last June I collected Elderflowers from a friend’s garden and I made my own Cordial – it is one of the most refreshing drinks I can think of. I certainly recommend you have a go this year and from what I have seen so far I think there will be a bumper crop of flowers and the berries to follow.
The Elder or Elderberry (Sambucus Nigra) is a shrub, although it is often called a tree. It grows like a weed on railway embankments, parkland, roadsides and in hedges and woodlands. Native species of the elderberry shrub are often planted by those wishing to support native butterfly and bird species. The creamy flowers start appearing in May and continue blooming throughout June and into July. The flowers are borne in large corymbs (flat-topped flower clusters where the individual flower stalks grow upward from various points of the main stem to approximately the same height) 10-15 cm in diameter, where the individual flowers are white with 5 petals. The flowerheads have honey scented blossoms that are crisp and juicy, with a highly aromatic smell and flavour and are pollinated by flies. I have to add that the leaves of the Elder are not so pleasant with a horrid bitter smell.
The flowers have been used in many things; pressed into tonics, brewed into wines and champagne, lightly battered and fried into fritters, or stirred into cake mixes adding a light, sweet flavour.
Later the berries can be cleaned and cooked and made into many thing; extracts, syrups, pies, jams or used as garnish, dye or flavouring. The leaves, twigs, stems, roots and unripe berries of all elderberry plants are not edible, and contain toxins that can cause sickness. Remember ripe flowers and berries only.
Try and pick the flowerheads on a lovely sunny day, choosing young ones that are facing the sun providing maximum flavour. Carry them in a basket (not a plastic bag as they will wilt). Don’t wash them, just shake them well to dispose of any bugs.
Follow the this recipe that makes 1.5 litres of cordial:
20 elderflower heads
1.5 kg castor sugar
3 lemons and 1 large orange quartered
Bring the water to the boil and add the sugar. Stir until the sugar has dissolved and remove from heat.
Put the fruit quarters and the flowerheads into a large bowl and pour over the syrup.
Cover the bowl with a tea-towel and leave to steep for 24 hours.
Strain the liquid through some muslin or new fine cloth and pour into sterilised bottles.
Tighten the lids and store in a cool place. Enjoy diluted with water or sparkling water and ice for a wonderful refreshing drink on a hot sunny afternoon.
Later in the year you can go foraging again for the berries.
Are they good for you? Newer studies say ‘yes’. Elderberries contain potassium and large amounts of vitamin C, and apparently have been proven in a few recent studies to shorten the duration of cold and flu symptoms as well as helping to strengthen the immune system. They are a good source of anthocyanins, powerful antioxidants which are responsible for giving many red and purple fruits their colour.
IMPORTANT: Raw elderberries contain TOXINS and MUST be cooked before eating!!
June trivia – did you know?
• On June 8th, 1786, ice cream was first put on sale to the general public!
• On June 17th, 1579, Sir Francis Drake discovered the state of New Albion, now known as California.
• In Siberia they have a saying, “June is too soon and July too late for summer”!